How Vidal Sassoon changed my life…and my hair

That Tuesday in 1969 started out like any other.

Legions of women walked to work in New York City wearing sneakers (tennis shoes for West Coasters) and carrying their heels in shopping bags.

I was one of them. I was also one of millions of women who set our hair on big rollers every night, and slept on them. Mine were one and a half inch-diameter brown mesh over an aluminum spring. Not easy to find a pillow position with this lunar armor covering my head.

But the results—oh, the fluffy hair with body and height. For someone with stick straight hair, I adored the way my hair looked when I unwrapped the rollers every morning.

With my bouncing, long, blonde hair, I left my apartment on 89th Street at Madison Avenue that hot August morning, and walked 40 city blocks to my job at WNEW FM in the Pan Am Building, just north of Grand Central Station. I joined the ranks of my fellow gals. We looked odd dressed to the gills in the style of the late 1960s that verged on formal and sporting scuffed sneakers on our feet. We were a pragmatic lot; no one enjoyed walking in pain-inducing pumps.

I marched; I liked the exercise. Then again, everyone walked fast in New York. At the end of the two-mile trek, I was hot and perspirey. After stopping in at the corner coffee shop for a coffee regular and a toasted corn muffin, I hopped the elevator and THEN ducked into the ladies room before walking to my desk.

The woman in the mirror had loser hair. Humidity had reduced my fluffy hair to a limp, blonde mass that clung to my skull. This despite gallons of hairspray. I hated hairspray.

For this disappointing result I underwent the torture of sleeping on stupid rollers every night?

I kicked the wall beneath the mirror.

Pain shot through my toe; it throbbed, I was sure I’d broken it.

That did it. Anger morphed into resolve, and after work that evening, I marched myself over to Fifth Avenue and straight into the Vidal Sassoon salon.

On Tuesday nights, haircuts were free, as long as you could submit to the ministrations of an apprentice hairdresser. We girls with problem hair, no money for a haircut, or the simple desire for hair adventure stood around waiting to be chosen. Student hairdressers approached each of us. They felt our hair, lifted it to see how thick it might be, how unruly. Gasps and expletives occasionally escaped their lips as they guided their conquests to the depths of the salon to perform magic.

As if they were picking sides for a softball team, they left me until last, clearly disappointed with the fineness of my hair; only at the final moment did they deign to style it.

As Sassoon has said, he was not after style; he was after bones. One apprentice washed my hair, another one cut and styled it, and a third blew it dry. Edward Scissorhands couldn’t have flown through the process any faster. When the cutter whipped away the gown and proudly showed off his handiwork in the mirror, Sassoon’s comment proved true. In place of my blonde locks (curl imagined) I had a cap of hair that contoured the shape of my head. Wispy pixie hair. About an inch long all over.

Just that easily, I had done away with the problems of humidity, hairspray and tormented sleep. I now had wash-and-wear hair; I could jump out of the shower in the morning, dry my hair with a towel, comb it into place and walk to work without fear of losing my style. It was a revelation. There’s far more to life than perfect hair.

Thank you Vidal Sassoon.